3. Ganesh Datta and Nikhil Unni - Capturing Creativity In A Remote-First World

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Key Takeaways

Co-founder division of responsibility

  • I’m always interested in understanding how early-stage co-founders divvy up responsibility. And particularly for Cortex, with all three co-founders being technical, I wanted to understand how they are diving up the work.
  • It started out quite fluid as they are all technical. Essentially they would all jump into the code and hash through features and bugs that needed to be built, sometimes not even coordinating with one another. 
  • The autonomy and freedom that comes with being at an early stage startup led to some lack of coordination, which was not scalable.
  • Since then they’ve found a breakdown that works: Anish is focused solely on sales, hiring, investor relations, etc. Ganesh spends 75% of his time on sales, hiring, investor relations and 25% of his time on engineering. Nikhil drives engineering efforts solely.
  • The division of responsibilities has allowed them to move much faster. 
  • Collectively they still spend a lot of time on roadmap and strategy

Shifting weekly retros to focus on business outcomes

  • One thing Nikhil and Ganesh mentioned was how they’ve introduced retros every Friday, with a twist.
  • Retrospectives are a traditional agile practice where you reflect on how you are running your software development. 
  • However, their weekly retros focus more on business outcomes and wins, as opposed to engineering outcomes (e.g., shipped feature X, improved query performance by Y, etc).
  • This is a really smart move by the founding team - employees are more engaged and drive better results when they understand the levers that move the business forward. And I think it’s even more powerful that they are instilling this culture in a technical and engineering-heavy company and product. It’s a force multiplier.

The impact of technical architecture on organizations

  • This topic was the impetus for the discussion. I think it’s really interesting that the software a company builds directly impacts an organization’s ability to execute. 
  • When companies are first building their software, they traditionally have one code base that contains and executes all of the functionality of their product. 
  • But as the scope and complexity of your product grows, so does the time and effort required by the engineering teams to communicate and coordinate with one another in order to make updates to your product. In many cases, engineering teams are not built to do this at scale.
  • The solution is to “break apart” your code base - pulling out functionality into smaller chunks that smaller teams can own. This solves a team scaling, communication, coordination and execution problem - now the engineers are not reliant on anyone else to perform their job.
  • And that’s where CortexApp comes in - they help manage and make sense of all the micro services.

COVID’s impact

  • The team finished raising their seed round with Sequoia two days before the lockdown in SF.
  • They first thought they’d have a great in-person engineering culture, but realized that everything is going to likely be remote for the first year or two.
  • There is a lot of focus on finding ways to recreate that “lightning in a bottle” feeling that results in bursts of creativity that you only really get from in-person collaboration.
  • There is also a clear need to build good process - Ganesh said you need a 5x better process when doing these remotely versus in person.
  • One benefit for the team was that the speed and reach of their sales has broadened and accelerated greatly with remote work being a new norm.

Show Notes

My guests today are Ganesh Datta and Nikhil Unni. They are the co-founders of Cortex, a solution that helps engineering teams reduce the complexity of their services. In this episode we discussed how three technical co-founders divide responsibilities at an early-stage company, the importance of aligning your team to business outcomes and the headwinds and tailwinds that come with a remote-first world.  Ganesh and Nikhil are brilliant and I think you’ll enjoy their unique perspectives.


Ganesh’s Twitter / LinkedIn

Nikhil’s Twitter / LinkedIn



Show Highlights

(2:17) - Founding story of Cortex

(5:03) - Division of responsibility amongst three technical co-founders

(8:33) - Channeling early employee excitement into ownership

(9:23) - Cortex’s spin on retros 

(11:59) - History of microservices and their impact on organizations

(15:11) - How engineering teams organize around microservices

(16:22) - Organizational agility from monoliths

(17:40) - COVID’s impact


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Episode Transcript